The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, September 14-20

shoes011-handofpoverty

Shoes (1916)
Directed by Lois Weber
In the 1910s, a few great, prolific Hollywood filmmakers made a practice of exposing problems facing their impoverished fellows. While the compassionate social exposés helmed by Charles Chaplin and D.W. Griffith continue to be celebrated today, those made by Lois Weber are seldom shown. Most of the works of this multihyphenate film artist—including the first-ever feature directed by a woman, 1914’s The Merchant of Venice—are considered lost today, and several of the ones that survive do so in damaged and fragmented prints. The distributor Milestone Films is now releasing new digital restorations of two of the 27 films Weber directed in 1916, including the short feature Shoes, whose new version (based on a previous restoration by the EYE Film Institute Netherlands) was created with the aid of the film’s only recently rediscovered original script.

Shoes tells the story of a lost person—a young woman named Eva (played by Mary MacLaren) who works in a five-and-ten-cent store as her family’s lone breadwinner in a pair of shoes whose soles keep falling away. Each day she passes a shop with new boots in its window and hopes to eventually save up enough. Eve supports her lazy father (Harry Griffith) and hungry mother (Mattie Witting) and siblings to the point of exhaustion, and eventually succumbs to the attentions of a creepy cash-holding singer named Charlie (William V. Mong) in an effort to support herself. The film reveals Eva’s stifled hopes and dreams to us within the context of hard material reality. Scenes shot on location throughout then-contemporary Los Angeles have their drama—and intimate sympathy—concentrated on a human being’s face. Shoes will screen at Anthology Film Archives together with The Rosary and Suspense, two shorts co-directed by Weber and her husband and frequent collaborator Phillips Smalley. All three screenings will be introduced by guest speakers. Aaron Cutler (September 16, 9:15pm; September 22, 7:15pm; September 25, 4pm at Anthology Film Archives’s “Woman with a Movie Camera: Female Film Directors Before 1950”)

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